A week after Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislative leaders announced legislation for drought-related needs, both houses of the California state Legislature passed a $687 million drought relief package (AB 79 and SB 103) today. If Brown signs the bills, as expected, they would take effect immediately. WG staff worked with the key legislative staff on the fast-moving bills as the language evolved. In other news from Sacramento today, Governor Brown announced his re-election campaign.
The legislation calls for immediate action on the drought, including $15 million to address emergency water shortages; $1 million for a public awareness campaign; $1 million to improve groundwater monitoring and reporting; and $10 million to provide financial incentives to agricultural operations to invest in water irrigation treatment and distribution systems. Most of the money comes from bonds previously approved by voters and will accelerate existing or planned water conservation and recycling projects. The proposed plan would supplement the $183 million from existing federal funds for drought relief programs pledged by President Barack Obama two weeks ago.
Representatives of the Brown administration say existing water rights laws will not change, and that the new enforcement powers granted to the State Water Resources Control Board by the bills will stay in effect only during the state of emergency. Attorneys and lobbyists for senior water rights holders were not so certain that this was the case and spent several hours successfully negotiating amendments to protect their water rights. Additionally, under the legislation, the State Water Resources Control Board would have new powers to issue steep fines for illegal diversions of water and violations of Cease and Desist Orders. The bill was amended in the Senate to stave off fines for unintentional diversions, alleviating concerns of several Republican legislators. Western Growers encourages members to be vigilant during this drought to avoid illegally diverting water.
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